My ongoing research continues to reveal the role of wallpaper in the decorative history of Penllyn Castle. Little is known about the acquisition or appearance of the rooms when Emilia Gwinett, who inherited the castle in 1786 and rebuilt it in 1790, was a resident. John Homfray purchased Penllyn Castle in 1846. Only a few of the wallpapers installed during the 19th century when he was the owner survive in situ today, yet they throw light on some very vibrant and fashionable interior decoration choices. The castle itself is now privately owned, while the estate remains in the ownership of the Homfray family, direct descendants of Sir Francis Homfray.
Discovery of ‘Bamboo’ wallpaper in the bathroom
To date, a total of 12 wallpapers and borders have been catalogued. These range from small samples and fragments recovered from the bedrooms on the first floor to an entire trompe-l’oeil wall-hanging scheme still in situ in the drawing room. It was evident that structural work was necessary and so the removal of wallpaper from the upper floor was advised, while in the ground-floor drawing room the wallpaper from the areas most affected by water and dry rot was also removed for further testing.
As is common with on-site conservation projects there was a time limit for removal of the papers. Unfortunately, there was no time for surface cleaning of all the papers in situ. The removal of most wallpapers took place without the use of water, with the exception of the French trompe-l’oeil wallpaper. Damage to the pigment layer was widespread. Some was caused by cracks in the plaster and some by silver fish and humidity, which directly affected the surface. Due to the fragmented nature of some of the pieces, lining and repairs with Japanese tissue will be an essential part of the treatment. Reproduction of two interior schemes has also been confirmed.
Restoration of French 19th-century wallpaper in the drawing room
The polychrome rococo design features acanthus leaves, maidens, tassels, foliate scrolls and shells, painted in trompe-l’oeil style. Borders accompany the rococo panels, with shell decorations for the corners and centres of each wall panel. The panels are 19th-century French, using hand-painted gouache and hand-block printing on paper, in the manner of Zuber or Dufour.
The rococo trompe-l’oeil is in good condition overall, but the matching borders and shell decorations are covered by extensive surface dirt, mould and dry rot. The paper has degraded due to the overall poor building condition, visible pest damage and water damage to the external wall. Thick layers of printed impasto distemper give the effect of a chalky wall painting or fresco.
Testing to see if removing overpaint is possible
The primary in situ conservation treatment included cleaning off the surface dirt using smoke sponges and brushes and removing mould. Deteriorated fragments of wallpaper borders were removed.
Surface dirt and mould under treatment
Surface cleaning and testing was conducted along with paint removal in situ using SPVR , a blend of neutral, non-toxic, biodegradable surfactants with 11% ethanol. This revealed the original colour scheme.
Revealing the original colour scheme
The wallpaper here was a bespoke order placed via Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville in Paris, late 19th/early 20th century. The design is ‘Bamboo’ from the Singapore collection, 3013 BHV, printed by Zuber. This is still in production, as confirmed on my visit to the Zuber showroom in Paris in February 2023. The paper is block-printed in seven distemper colours.
Treatment of ‘Bamboo’ wallpaper with SPVR
The walls were in poor condition due to humidity, and the original Bamboo design was found painted over with oil-based paint. There was extensive surface dirt and large areas of wallpaper were detached from the walls. Above the door, a stamp had been transferred as a mirror image over to the lining paper, allowing for design identification. The wallpaper was removed and taken to the conservation studio for further treatment.
Here there were a number of wallpapers, of unknown provenance. The first layer above the sink, hidden for years behind the mirror, was probably manufactured in the late 19th century. Remaining layers were possibly 20th century, produced using both hand-printed and machine-printed methods.
Condition was poor overall due to the state of the building, as most interiors were exposed to the elements due to extensive roof damage. A number of wallpapers were separated from a ‘sandwich-like’ fragment that was detached from the wall above the door frame. Treatment involved removing them to safety, surface cleaning, paint consolidation, tear repair and lining with Japanese tissue.
Justyna removes the chintz wallpaper
The chintz wallpaper from above the sink is in good condition and has been successfully removed and cleaned. It will be repaired and lined with Japanese paper. The client has requested a reproduction of this wallpaper, whilst the original fragment will be framed and returned to the Castle.
As the history of the building and its interiors are undergoing further research, I hope to report on this in the next issue of the Review. The papers from the sandwich need to be identified and conserved while two of the designs are going to be reproduced and installed after the castle renovation is completed.
Justyna Medon, 2023 recipient of the Merryl Huxtable Bursary